Classic of the Week: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

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‘They lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented’: Lottie Brown is thrown into the conventions of 70s New York society in this week’s Classic of the Week.

Written immediately after the end of the First World War this is a brilliantly realized anatomy of the 1970s New York society that Wharton grew up in and spent her life escaping.

Newland Archer is a perfect product of wealthy, upper-class New York society; he sees its standards, its rules and its limitations, and is on the verge of settling into a nice comfortable marriage with a nice safe girl, the impeccable May Welland. The marriage will become another bead on his string of accomplishments. But then the arrival of May’s alluring cousin Ellen Olenska who is everything May is not: independent, free-thinking, captivating and scandalously separated from her husband, throws Newland’s conventional future into jeopardy.

The Age of Innocence represents the clash of old New York society with a new, worldly society that questions the limitations imposed on it. In comparison Old New York becomes a false, empty and cold affair incapable of feeling.  As Newland becomes more and more entwined in affection for Ellen, only the ultimate nature of loyalty will decide which kind of life he wants to live.

The Age of Innocence is available from Oxford World’s Classics: Like or Share this article on Facebook or Twitter and send your name and address to books@leedsstudent.org in order to enter into a competition to win a selection of amazing OUP prizes.

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